South African And Nigerian Governments Publicly Approve Of GMOs, Ghana Not Far Behind

Written by Peter Pedroncelli
Nigerian VC firm GMO technology
Many smallholder farmers in Africa are wary of GMO technology compromising their traditions and the heirloom seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation. Photo by Mark Kucharski on Unsplash

The governments of Africa’s two biggest economies officially embrace genetically modified organisms for their potential to solve food security. 

While South Africa and Nigeria have embraced the benefits of GMO tech, governments in most of the rest of the continent have not publicly come out in favor of the widescale adoption of GMO crops. Ghana, however, is bucking this trend, according to Fastcompany.

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Smallholder farmers trying to feed their families generally mistrust GMOs. They see global seed companies as threats to their traditions and heirloom seeds which have been passed down from generation to generation.

Africa is the world’s most food-insecure region. More than 250 million people went hungry in 2018 — 32 percent of the world’s total 821 million hungry people, NewTimes reports.

For years, scientists have been encouraging genetically modified organism, or GMO technology, as a potential solution to Africa’s food security issues.

GMOs in agriculture refer to crops whose genetic makeup has been engineered in the laboratory in order to favor desired traits or the production of desired biological products, according to Britannica

The U.S. produces around 40 percent of the world’s GM crops.  

Scientists say they have developed crop varieties are resistant to diseases, drought, predators or pests — issues that affect food production in Africa.

Ghana may become the third African country to embrace GMO tech, Fastcompany reports.

Sometime in 2019 or 2020, The West African country plans to release genetically modified cowpea, a staple crop consumed widely across Ghana. By doing so, the Ghanaian government would be approving the local production and sale of genetically modified food.

Cowpea is a staple in Ghana and other West African countries and is known as the poor people’s meat

Because the crop can be harvested within two months of sowing, it fills the hunger gap for poor families. But in recent years, pests have begun boring into the cowpea pods and destroying 20-to-80 percent of the crop each year, according to AllianceforScience.

Scientists have genetically modified cowpea plant lines to resist the pest, and the Ghanaian government is embracing this development.

Why is GMO technology controversial in Africa?

Critics say that expensive, patented GMO seeds will do nothing to solve the problem of agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of farms are small family businesses, according to Euractiv.

Instead, they say that large western seed companies will simply enrich themselves and become more powerful because of Africa’s dependence on them if GMO tech is widely adopted.

In addition, some argue that the effects on human health and biodiversity remain unknown and are a cause for concern.